This guide includes most of the commonly found Mexican cheeses as well as other Hispanic cheese used in Mexican Cooking.
FRESH, MOIST CHEESES
Adapted from a Greek basket cheese, the milky and mild cheese has a texture similar to high-moisture mozzarella; softens with heat but does not melt; use in cooked dishes such as enchiladas or crumble over tacos or chili; can be sliced and fried. It is also served as a snack (bontana).
Mild, meltable cheese similar to Monterey Jack. Substitute: Monterey Jack
Translates to "fresh cheese". The U.S. version is soft, moist, milk and crumbly cheese for sprinkling over enchiladas or black bean soup or crumbling onto a salad. Sadly, most the versions in the U.S. do not melt very well. In Mexico, the cheese is used to stuff chiles or for quesadillas. Substitute: Feta
Fresh, mild, curd-like cheese similar to ricotta. Used in filling and desserts. Substitute: Ricotta
SOFT AND SEMI-SOFT CHEESES
Aged queso fresco. Use crumbled or grated. Substitute: Romano
Also called queso quesadilla because of its usefulness in that dish. Usually sold sliced, asadero melts well and can be used for nachos or burgers. Substitutes: Fontina, Monterey Jack, Muenster or Teleme (referred to as a "poor man's brie" from California)
Melting cheese, similar to a mild cheddar or Monterey Jack; also known as queso menonita because it was introduced by the Mennonites. Use in queso fundido, chile con queso, cheese sauces or casseroles. Substitutes: Muenster, Medium Cheddar, Monterey Jack, or Mild Cheddar
Mild, firm, slightly tangy cheese similar in texture to mozzarella. Typically braided and shaped into a ball. It "strings" like mozzarella when heated and can be used in quesadillas and other cooked dishes. Look for a spicy version too which is flavored with cherry pits. Substitutes: Mozzarella or Armenian String Cheese.
SEMI-FIRM AND FIRM, DRY CHEESES
CHONTALENO AND CHONTALENO AHUMADO
Dry, grating cheeses, "ahumado" means smoked.
Salty, dry grating cheese, sometimes referred to as Mexican Parmesan. Use as topping for beans, Caesar salads and many other savory dishes. Softens but does not melt. Substitute: Parmesan
Literallly means "flavored with chile"; similar to cotija anejo but coated with mild chile or paprika. Substitute: Feta
Mellow, firm cheese similar to a slightly aged Jack, with some nutty character; melts well; use in cooked dishes or as a snacking cheese. Manchego is actually a cheese from Spain. Substitute: Pecorino Romano
One of the few Mexican "yellow" cheeses very similar to Munster. This is a gratable cheese. Substitute: Munster
Not really a cheese but a dairy staple in Mexican cuisine. Crema is a heavy cream similar in taste to créme fraiche. Thicker versions of crema are used as additions to sauces and the thinner crema is used as a topping for tostadas, tacos, and enchiladas. Substitute: Créme Fraiche, or make your own.